DENVER – When current Colorado Avalanche enforcer Cody McLeod was playing for the San Diego Gulls in his first full professional season, it wasn’t the National Hockey League that he was focused on. He was simply wondering if he’d ever get to the American Hockey League instead.
"Yeah, it was pretty tough some days. I remember being there some days and just thinking, ‘Am I ever going to get called up to the American Hockey League,’" McLeod told ECHL.com
"I think once you get to the American League, you see guys that you’ve played with or played against getting called up, you know that you’re going to get a shot. You just have to keep doing what you did your whole life to get to the American League. Like I said, the ECHL is a good starting point. You’ve got to keep working and keep believing that you’re going to get that chance."
McLeod split that first pro year of 2005-06 between the Gulls and the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters, scoring four goals and adding five assists in 16 games with the San Diego squad. He spent the majority of that season with Lowell — dressing in 33 contests — and recalled his jump into the pro game after a standout junior career.
"It was my first pro year, and I was kind of learning the ropes a little bit," he said. "Once I got called up to the A, I definitely didn’t want to go back to the East Coast. You just work hard and do what you’ve got to do to stay up, and that’s kind of been my thing my whole career."
McLeod enjoyed his time in San Diego, calling it a "great city," and adding that the fan support and weather were both top notch. It was a good starting point for his career, he said, and it was also where he played in his first pro playoff games.
"I only played a couple there, I got suspended for a couple too," McLeod said.
"But it was a lot of fun. Like I said, once you get called up the A, you don’t really want to go back. But the playoffs were a lot of fun, it’s just too bad we didn’t go a bit deeper."
McLeod left the ECHL behind for good the following season, signing a contract with the Colorado Avalanche and playing in 73 games for their AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats. He posted 180 penalty minutes, but also scored 11 goals and eight assists, rounding out his game and putting his name on the map for a possible call-up the following season.
Sure enough, two months into the 2007-08, and McLeod was called up to the Avalanche to make his debut against the Anaheim Ducks.
"I remember getting the call when I was actually playing in Winnipeg, my hometown. It was awesome to get that call. Your first game, it’s just like, ‘Finally, I made it.’ Once you’re up here, you do everything you possibly can to stay up."
His first goal game a week later, against Dominik Hasek and the Detroit Red Wings.
"I actually had a breakaway, I don’t know how I got that," McLeod said through a laugh.
"But that was another first, and it was awesome. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I might have just closed my eyes and shot the puck. Luckily it went in the net, and that was that."
McLeod has been in the National Hockey League ever since, and emerged as Colorado’s top enforcer. He’s turned in four consecutive triple-digit penalty minute seasons, and is well on his way to a fifth. In 297 NHL games, McLeod has scored 31 goals, added 25 assists and accumulated 663 penalty minutes.